Human Nature

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 103–123 | Cite as

Life Expectancy and the Timing of Life History Events in Developing Countries

  • Kermyt G. AndersonEmail author


Life history theory predicts that greater extrinsic mortality will lead to earlier and higher fertility. To test this prediction, I examine the relationship between life expectancy at birth and several proxies for life history traits (ages at first sex and first marriage, total fertility rate, and ideal number of children), measured for both men and women. Data on sexual behaviors come from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Two separate samples are analyzed: a cross-sectional sample of 62 countries and a panel sample that includes multiple cross-sectional panels from 48 countries. Multivariate regression analysis is used to control for potential confounding variables. The results provide only partial support for the predictions, with greater support among women than men. However, the prediction is not supported in sub-Saharan African countries, most likely owing to the nonequilibrium conditions observed in sub-Saharan Africa with respect to life expectancy. The applicability of the model to understanding HIV/AIDS risk behaviors is discussed.


Life history theory Life expectancy Fertility HIV/AIDS risk behaviors Demographic and Health Surveys 



Ann Beutel, Sarah Burgard, Chris Kuzawa, Bobbi Low, Dawn Neill, Mary Shenk, Carl Simon, and several anonymous reviewers all provided helpful feedback and criticism. I thank as well the participants of the IUSSP Seminar on the Ecology of the Male Life Course at Castle of Rauischholzhausen, Germany, for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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